Pfizer cleared its latest hurdle toward administering its two-shot Covid-19 immunization to those ages 12 and older, a practice that will become official guidance once signed by the CDC’s director.
(CN) — An advisory board for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention unanimously recommended on Wednesday that the agency approve Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine for use in people between 12 and 15 years old.
The 14-0 vote by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, an independent panel of medical and public health experts, follows the United States Food and Drug Administration’s authorization two days earlier, expanding emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine to include adolescents. One committee member recused herself.
Next, the recommendation is expected to be signed quickly by CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, before it becomes official guidance and the CDC updates its interim guidelines for Covid-19 vaccine administration.
Despite the FDA’s Monday authorization, most states have held off on beginning to vaccinate 12- to 15-year-olds, pending the CDC’s recommendations.
Public health experts say that vaccinating kids, who make up a quarter of the country’s population, is key to ending the pandemic.
Kids account for 14% of Covid-19 cases in the United States — but that percentage is increasing, according to data from early May. During the week that ended on May 6, children made up 24% of new cases.
Older adults were prioritized for vaccination because of their risk of getting seriously ill from Covid-19. But the focus on children and adolescents is sometimes lost, some pediatricians say.
Doctors also point out that school-aged kids have missed out on formative childhood experiences — sports, band practice, graduations — that can have a lasting impact, regardless of susceptibility to the novel coronavirus.
“I think that the childhood experience that our kids have gone through will have long-lasting consequences that may extend across generations, to be honest,” said Dr. Grace Lee, a member of the CDC committee and a professor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine, following Wednesday’s vote.
“We don’t really fully yet understand the total … physical health, mental health and educational impact of the pandemic on our kids,” Lee said.
Based on disparities in Covid-19 hospitalizations and reactions in children, she said, “the consequences could be far more severe than we anticipate.”
Lee advocated for taking a “life course” approach to thinking about Covid-19 and its potential intergenerational impact.
Another ACIP member, Dr. Matthew Daley, reminded those listening into the vote that “intensive safety scrutiny” of Pfizer’s vaccine will continue, even after administration in younger people begins.
He noted that more than 130 million doses of the vaccine have been given out, and that the safety results so far have been “really positive.”
Daley, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente Colorado and associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, pointed to the state of the global pandemic as supportive of increased vaccination.
“If we look at what’s happening elsewhere in the world, that’s evidence of what happens if you don’t have adequate supplies of safe and effective vaccines,” Daley said. “We’re in this very privileged position where we see declining deaths and declining case rates, because of these vaccines.”
Deaths from Covid-19 deaths are at their lowest level since July of 2020, with around 600 Americans succumbing to the virus each day. There are around 38,000 new infections per day — an 85% decrease from the peak in January, when a quarter million daily infections were reported.
Daley said the next step toward expanding vaccine access will “continue those downward trends.”
Prior to Wednesday’s vote, the ACIP heard presentations about the Pfizer vaccine trials, as well as public comment from parents against and in favor of expanding use of the vaccine.
Approval of the Pfizer vaccine to be used in adolescents is based on a clinical trial of more than 2,200 people in the younger age group.
Participants, who received the same doses at the same three-week interval as adults, showed vaccine side effects similar to those reported in people ages 16 and older. The vaccine was 100% effective in preventing Covid-19 among those in the trial.
Dr. Lee Savio Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, called the FDA’s authorization on Monday a “critically important step in bringing life-saving vaccines to children and adolescents.”
“Our youngest generations have shouldered heavy burdens over the past year,” Beers said, “and the vaccine is a hopeful sign that they will be able to begin to experience all the activities that are so important for their health and development.”